Occidental to Share $479,000 Mellon Foundation Grant to Develop Innovative Study-Abroad Program
Occidental College will share a $479,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop an innovative study-abroad program in Mexico that will build around the themes of race, resources, community and culture.
The college joins Fisk and Willamette universities to outline a three-year project scheduled to begin in January 2004 in collaboration with Benito Juárez University in Oaxaca.
The consortium will spend the next 18 months developing a multidisciplinary curriculum to be offered at all three domestic campuses and in Mexico. Service learning and community-based education will be important dimensions of the curriculum in all locations.
“The program departs from traditional models of study abroad in significant ways that lead to a more intense, integrated and sustained development of a liberal arts education,” said Robin Craggs, Occidental’s director of international programs. “The consortium plan calls for immersion into the host culture through coursework, home stays, and individual research through community-based education. It provides for close ties to host country partner universities, but also the maintenance of the rigorous standards associated with a liberal arts education.”
Students will have the choice of participating in consortium programming in three ways: for a full semester abroad; in a full-semester course at their home institution followed by optional participation in a three-week intensive seminar in Oaxaca; or via a guided independent summer study abroad program through the consortium center in Mexico. Faculty from Benito Juárez University may also participate in exchanges with consortium institutions.
Over the three-year period, students will focus a year each on the humanities, social sciences and the sciences. “Relying upon the inexpensive and readily available technology of e-mail, students at all four sites will share thoughts and may even complete collaborative research projects involving more than one site,” said John Bak, Occidental’s director of corporate and foundation relations.
The initiative is designed to avoid the cultural and intellectual isolation typical of many U.S. study abroad experiences by integrating study with courses on the three domestic campuses and by establishing a program of home stays and service learning based in Oaxaca. It also addresses an historical neglect of non-European study-abroad programs. At present, more than 70 percent of all students studying abroad do so in Western Europe.
Benito Juárez University was chosen as the program headquarters in part because of the region’s geopolitical contrasts with the United States. Consortium members hope the arrangement serves as a model for future program development by other campuses nationwide. The consortium plans to develop separate proposals in the future for study-abroad efforts in South Africa and Cuba.
Occidental, Fisk and Willamette form a natural alliance, providing geographical, cultural and racial diversity to the program. Occidental now sends about 30 percent of its students abroad prior to graduation, and with its strong emphasis on service learning, it will offer guidance to faculty as they weave service learning into their courses for the program.
Willamette has extensive experience establishing its own study abroad program, including programs in Latin America. It now sends about half of its students abroad prior to graduation. As such, Willamette can provide administrative leadership to the consortium. Fisk, meanwhile, is expanding its commitment to off-campus study and will add diversity and energy to the project.